Recently my retina tore. No reason, it just tore. My vision went blurry and I saw what I thought was a large floater but turned out to be blood. Yeah, ick. This was four days before my health insurance kicked in, so I was pretty much fucked up the ass by the hand of God on that one.
I wound up going to the emergency room at Manhattan Eye [plus a couple of other organs] where a doctor told me he would try and surround the tear with laser rivets. The idea was this would keep the tear from getting bigger and keep my retina from falling off. He had trouble seeing through all the blood (this was not blood you could see in my eye without fancy equipment, and the tear itself is also invisible to the naked eye, but it apparently looks really grim to an opthamologist), so he lasered some that night, some the next day and some after that. But he couldn't laser one part of the tear, where he thought fluids are formed, and said I would need surgery, a truly horrible sounding thing that had a 15 to 20 percent chance of going wrong.
I was pretty freaked out but was going along with it all. While you always hear you should get a second opinion, when you're scared your going blind in one eye you start just wanting someone to tell you what to do. Fortunately, my friend Jessica insisted I call my regular opthomologist and ask him to recommend a retina specialist. After the first three all couldn't see me before my scheduled surgery and my regular opthamologist hadn't gotten back to me with more names (he's terrible at returning phone calls) Jessica even called my opthamologist and talked to his office manager and pleaded my case so well that he called almost immediately after. He gave me one more name, a doctor who works two blocks from my house and agreed to squeeze me in for a looksee before his vacation started.
He looked at my eye, said he didn't think it looked all that bad, lasered the rest of the tear in about three minutes and said that barring something crazy happening I wouldn't need surgery.
I'm not out of the woods yet. His associate, who is seeing me while the other one is on vacation, wants me to get surgery, because he feels even though the tear is lasered there is still a risk it could tear through. He's young, and younger doctors tend to be very end to preventative surgery, so I'm hoping when the other one comes back he will stand by his diagnosis and say I still don't need surgery.
So I can't yet say getting a second opinion saved me from surgery, but it did give me a chance, and it's important to note that the second doctor easily lasered a tear the first doctor couldn't manage, which leads me to agree with Jessica that you should never make the guy on call for emergencies your main doctor. She actually had many stories of people she knew who were incorrectly diagnosed or treated in emergency rooms.
So always, always, always, no matter how freaked out you are, go see another doctor.
In a supporting example, my friend Sharon owns a house upstate she rents out, and there is a problem with the septic tank. The first company she contacted her said she would need a huge amount of work to get it working which would cost $25,000, a lot for a house worth maybe $60,000. The second contractor, a family business that's been around from the 50s, said they could fix it for about $2000.
Always get a second opinion.